K Sports 2-1 Meridian VP - Our hands are tied when we've only got 12 players, says Meridian VP joint-boss Joe Diggins

Saturday 07th January 2017
K Sports 2 – 1 Meridian VP
Location Cobdown Sports & Social Club, Station Road, Ditton, Aylesford, Kent ME20 6AU
Kickoff 07/01/2017 15:00

Southern Counties East Football League First Division
Saturday 7th January 2017
Stephen McCartney reports from Station Road

K SPORTS’ assistant manager Graham Martin admits his side underestimated Meridian VP and made it very hard work to beat them.

The Paperboys extended their unbeaten run to 14 games, winning their last 12, to leapfrog over Kent Football United into third-place in the Southern Counties East Football League First Division table with 47 points from 23 games.

Rusthall remain leaders on 54 points from 23 games, while Glebe are four points behind, but the Chislehurst-based club have four games in hand.  Meridian VP, meanwhile, have slipped down a couple of places into the bottom three with 19 points from 24 games.

K Sports were a dominant force during the early exchanges, but Meridian grabbed the lead totally against the run of play when lone striker Grant Lye scored on the counter-attack on the half-hour mark.

But striker Caine Smith slotted home a penalty ten minutes later to bring K Sports level.

Referee Shane Brown issued 10 cards during a poor second half.  He sent off K Sports’ central defender Liam Dawson six minutes into the second half and Caine Smith and Meridian central defender Paul Bradbury were both lucky to stay on the pitch as ill-discipline flowed.

Negative Meridian appeared to have held on to a point, but they gave away a second penalty and Smith’s 20th goal of the season sealed the Paperboys the three points by scoring the winner eight minutes and 36 seconds into time added on.

With K Sports using dressing rooms that are housed above the clubhouse a long way away from the 3G pitch, the game kicked off three minutes late and the home side dominated from the off.

“I thought we made very hard work of it to be perfectly honest with you,” admitted Martin, who was sent out by manager Kris Browning to do the post-match press conference.

“We went into the game on a great tempo, the way we play football, the way we get forward, the way we defend.  Everything’s really good tempo but today I think maybe where we’ve won a few games on the bounce we’ve probably underestimated them a little bit and we came unstuck a little bit.”

Meridian VP manager James Brown asked his fellow joint-manager Joe Diggins to take the post-match press conference.

“We came with a game plan. We turned up with 12 players today,” said Diggins.

“Basically myself and Brownie have taken over (from Richard Dimmock). It’s a bit of a mess there if I’m being completely honest with you.  So we’ve come in tried to steady the ship, try and get a settled squad because previously it was player-after-player coming in and out.

“We’ve had a few people who couldn’t make it today for whatever reason so we had to set-up the best way we can with the 12 players.

“K Sports are a good team, they’ve won 11 on the bounce. We came to kind of frustrate them a little bit.  Our thoughts and plans were to try to frustrate them for the first 20 minutes, half-an-hour, an ugly game of football and try to catch them on the break – and we did. We scored from it.

“But I thought the sending off was a strange one.  I thought we’d have gone on from there and pushed and maybe attacked a little bit more but we retreated which happens quite a lot when someone gets sent off.  You think you’ve got the man advantage but it never works like that. They played within themselves and they’ve got a game plan and they’re good at what they do, throws and crosses into the box, diagonals.

“Their players have been together for quite a few years, they’re dangerous on attacks so we thought we could frustrate them and deal with that and catch them on the break.

“But second half wasn’t quite good enough from us but our hands are tired when we’ve only got 12 players.”

Paperboys’ right-winger Josh Brown impressed while the score was goal-less and his low centre was met on the volley by Smith, which went over from a tight angle after only 156 seconds.

K Sports’ left-back Gabrielle Luckhurst played a sublime 60-yard diagonal pass to put Smith through on goal but after bringing the ball under control he dragged his shot across Jack Kelly and past the far post from 15-yards.

“We started very well.  I think we probably should’ve been three or four-nil up within the first 15 minutes,” said Martin.

“The problem is you look at Caine, he’s banging goals for fun at the moment and when you see Caine miss a chance, sometimes you think is it going to be one of those days? 

“Shortly after that, Josh Brown missed one we’d expect him to roll in the corner.”

K Sports’ central midfielder Joe Lewis took all six of their corners and his first was met by Smith, who made a pocket of space at the near post, but sent his free header over the crossbar from 12-yards.

Josh Brown then whipped in a cross from the right towards the far post but Robert Norman ghosted in to guide his header wide from inside the six-yard box.

Nick Nwotny’s low pass wasn’t cut out by Meridian’s left-back Michael Shipp, allowing Josh Brown to run into the box and place his shot just past the foot of the right-hand post when he only had Kelly to beat.

“We got away with a few if I’m honest,” admitted Diggins.

“Probably the first 20 minutes we got pinned back and we couldn’t get out.  I was worried because I thought we were hanging on to dear life thinking they were going to nick one but we kind of weathered the storm. They seemed they ran out of ideas a little bit and tried to catch them on the break and I think we sucker-punched them.”

Referee Shane Brown refused to book Caine Smith for handball at the far post in the 16th minute.

Lewis drove in a free-kick, the ball was flicked on by the towering Dawson and Smith used his hand before stabbing the ball into the bottom left-hand corner from close range.

“As like all good forwards, he’s telling me he hasn’t used his hand,” claimed Martin.

“We can only go with what he says.  The linesman (Paul Franks) is a long way off and the referee is pretty much there so we’ve got to go with that.”

Diggins admitted: “I didn’t see it, I didn’t see it. A few of us appealed and it went our way. A goal was coming from them at that point so I wouldn’t be surprised if it went in!”

K Sports continued to dominate and Lewis’ deep corner from the left was met by Michael Russell at the far post, who nodded down and past the near post.

K Sports were an organised outfit from set-pieces. Josh Brown launched 11 long throws into the box during the game.  Dawson met one with a flick but Nick Nwotny slid in to poke his shot across goal and Meridian escaped again.

But Meridian VP grabbed the lead with their only chance of the first half, timed at 29 minutes and 39 seconds.

Bradbury clipped a long ball out of defence with his right foot which sailed over Dawson’s head and put in Lye, who kept composed to clip his right-footed half-volley over Joe Cullip’s head and into the top far corner of the net.

“It was frustrating for Grant today,” said Diggins.

“We told him to play on the shoulder. He’s got bundles of pace. He’s a young lad learning the game. Sometimes he comes deep to get the ball. We said as the lone man to play on the shoulder. They’re good at the back. They called it offside a few times and he got caught (offside four times) but it only takes one.  That’s stuff he’s going to learn to just say half a yard onside. He’s a young lad with bundles of talent.

“He’s had so much exposure and approaches from other clubs. I think we’ve had three seven-dayers for him in the last month so he’s a young lad with a lot of potential but he's happy where he is, get him on a good run, he’ll score.

“He’s been offered a bit of money and he’s turned them all down so he likes what myself and Brownie have got to offer.  If he gets his head right, he can push on even further but he needs to play and score regularly.”

When asked how he was feeling with his side leading at the time, Diggins replied: “I didn’t get too excited. I didn’t celebrate because I knew they’ll come out and throw everything at us so it didn’t take me by surprise.  I knew that we’d catch them on the break because I know their centre halves go forward for throws and corners so I knew we might get a chance where we could catch them but I knew we’ve got a lot to do.”

Martin added: “Disappointing for us purely because we’ve defended very well from the front this year and I think Nick (Nwotny) and Caine should’ve shut the ball down.  I don’t think it happened early doors so we maybe should’ve stopped that but they broke quickly.  It was that quick I still had eyes on where the ball originally started at so first of all I saw of it was the lad put it over the goalkeeper, which looked a well-taken goal.

“What goes through my mind at that particular time is we’ll win this game 3-1 because I know how we score goals and how well we’ve done. As we go on we didn’t win 3-1 in the end because we didn’t take chances and we lost a little bit of discipline.”

Meridian keeper Kelly made a near post block as his defenders allowed another Josh Brown long throw to drop into the six-yard box, but this method from the Paperboys became predictable and Meridian were able to clear their lines.

K Sports deservedly restored parity with 39 minutes and 29 seconds on the clock.

Lewis’ long ball ball was chased down the left channel by Smith, who cut into the penalty area from the left wing and faced Bradbury and James Brown in front of him and he was tripped by Bradbury and referee Shane Brown pointed to the spot.

Smith stepped up and slotted his right-footed penalty nicely into the bottom right-hand corner, despite Kelly diving the same way.

“Caine is full of confidence at the moment so first impression we’ve got was lets grab the ball and put it in the back of the net, which is what Caine is all about,” said Martin.

“I spoke to their centre half at half-time.  He thought it was outside the box where the foul took place. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think it was. It was a pen and Caine tucked it away like he should do.”

Diggins added: “Caine’s such a quality forward.  He caused problems all day for me. What’s disappointing with that goal is not the foul as such, it’s the fact that he’s managed to take a touch on the edge of the box and take it in and for me we should’ve dealt with that.  It shouldn’t have landed on his foot and take the ball in so that was disappointing.

“I said to them at half-time he’s dangerous around the box.  He’s a clever player, he will nick penalties and free-kicks. If he gets half a chance, he will score so he had a bit of a battle in the second half with some of the players but he is a good striker on form.”

Both camps were asked their thoughts at the break.

K Sports’ Martin said: “At half-time we’re quite disappointed because we should be probably 4-1 up. It was a matter of stop giving them the respect. We wasn’t winning second balls and I think we went out with a little bit of a mentality that we’ve won 11 on the bounce and it was just another game and we’ll go out and play.

“Well, sometimes teams come here and spoil it and then they want to take points. It was a matter of re-motivating them.  I don’t think they came out as fast as we wanted them to second half but we did eventually grind and grind and grind.”

Diggins added: “I wasn’t happy to be honest! I said to them we’re fifth from bottom in the league and they’re flying but that doesn’t mean we should be happy going in with a 1-1. We could’ve shown a bit more quality. 

“We set-up with five in midfield with the idea of playing it out wide but we didn’t really get three passes together first half so I was disappointed that they didn’t do that and told them the game plan was to catch them on the break.  The centre half wasn’t as quick as Grant but we shouldn’t be happy going in at 1-1, we shouldn’t be happy with that.”

A crowd of 40 suffered a poor second half where the referee took centre stage as cards came out of his pocket like confetti as the tackles and ill-discipline flowed.

K Sports went close at 11-a-side when Norman brought a ball down with his chest before cracking a right-footed volley, which sailed over the crossbar from 35-yards.

But they faced a mountain to climb when referee Shane Brown took a long time to pull a red-card out of his pocket to show at Dawson for his lunge on Dominic Elmes in midfield.

“Obviously being so far away I didn’t see the tackle properly but knowing Liam Dawson, he would’ve gone for the ball,” insisted Martin.

“I thought we would’ve got away with a yellow card. It took a very long time to come out.  We was thinking maybe it was going to be a yellow card.  Knowing Liam Dawson, he’s a very honest lad.  He always goes for the ball. He’s not one to do that.  We had to deal with it. We moved Ashley Cooper back into the back four and had to get on with it really.”

Diggins claimed: “From where I was sitting it seemed like he was off the ground and I think if you look at the Premier League a lot of red cards have happened for the same, similar kind of tackle.”

That killed the game as a spectacle as both sides, especially Smith and Bradbury tested the patience of the referee and got away with tackles that should have seen them take an early shower.

Martin admitted: “It did kill the game. I didn’t realise it was that many cards!”

Diggins added: “Caine’s a good player. He got a yellow card and he done three other (challenges) after that, that could’ve got him sent off.  They lose him, that’s their main man.  If Caine doesn’t (stay on the pitch), he doesn’t take the penalty. He should’ve gone but he didn’t and he scored the winner.”

Bradbury got away with a push into Smith’s back after the K Sports’ striker got in behind him following Lewis’ pass through the middle in the 56th minute. It was a clear-cut penalty but the referee chose not to award it.

“I thought the turning point from our point of view came when Caine wasn’t awarded a penalty,” claimed Martin.

“It was definitely a push. He’s in on goal. I know the law has changed but I do think - not slaughtering any of the officials, I’m not here to do that, they run the game = but I think the linesman (Michael Wilson) would’ve seen it.

“I do believe the lack of discipline stemmed from that decision that wasn’t given when it should’ve been.”

Diggins said: “Paul thought he got the ball. I didn’t really see from my angle. I’ve seen them given.  Their bench was furious and there was a few like that today.  For me the referee evened it out by not sending Caine off.”

Meridian created their second chance of the game in the 13th minute when quiet left-winger Mehmet Piro played a diagonal cross into the box which was met on the volley by Lye, which he cracked over the crossbar.

Lye then hit a speculative right-footed drive over Cullip’s crossbar from 30-yards, but little football was played during the second half.

Josh Brown kept launching long throws into the Meridian box and Smith wanted to kick anyone in a sky blue shirt, Bradbury likewise.

K Sports’ central defender Russell was immense and a chance fell to him in the 69th minute.

Right-back Martin Di Fede delivered a free-kick and Ashley Cooper (who slotted in beside Russell at the heart of defence) linked up with Norman down the left but Russell’s free header sailed into Kelly’s hands for a comfortable save.

Martin said: “We stick Mike up there for set-pieces and we feel we don’t get enough goals from centre halves and things like that.  Mike will always put one in the direction of the goal and maybe one will turn up.”

K Sports should have grabbed the lead in the 76th minute when Brown pounced on a loose ball inside Meridian’s half, sprinted through the heart of the pitch, skipped past the advancing keeper, only to roll his shot past the left-hand post of an empty goal.

“It’s the second time today Josh has missed a one-on-one,” despaired Martin.

“We expect more from Josh now.  Josh started the season as a reserve team player. The turning point for Josh was Hollands & Blair in the Cup when we went and won 4-2 and Josh was absolutely outstanding and got a hat-trick there and hasn’t looked back since.

“I do believe with Josh in the side people are scared of him. His pace is so quick, you always end up with two men marking him, which leaves a little bit of space sometimes for the others.”

Diggins added: “They had a couple like that. What’s disappointing with us when they went down to 10 men we didn’t push on. We didn’t do that to them. We had a couple of half chances but for us we just switched off a little bit out there. We got lucky there that he didn’t finish it.”

When asked about his 11 long throws, Martin admitted his players failed to deliver.

He said: “We had no joy from it either today, which normally he throws them a little bit flatter. Nothing came in at pace today and we didn’t really pick the balls up on the edge of the box when they came out.”

Meridian keeper Kelly came off his line to punch away Di Fede’s free-kick but Josh Brown lashed his volley over the bar as the ball dropped down on the edge of the penalty area.

Meridian wasted a glorious chance to snatch an unlikely victory, with the clock showing 42:36.

Yet again it came from Bradbury’s punt up field, which dropped down from the dark sky and Dean Whittingham – who switched from right-back to right-wing when Caine Anderson came off the bench – smacked his volley wide of the near post.

Diggins said: “It was a difficult chance. I thought he’s had to hit it on the volley on the side foot at a tight angle and I was right behind it. It was a close one, but it’s a difficult chance. It was a good ball for us. I thought we may have a few more of those chances, a few of those kind of balls.”

Diggins added: “I think it wasn’t the best game anyway.  It was poor for the spectator. We don’t like coming here and playing negativity but we’ve got to play to our strengths and what we’ve got so for us it was a frustrating game.  There were cards galore, tackles galore and it wasn’t the best game to watch. We didn’t get anything from the game.”

Josh Brown opted against launching a long throw, playing the ball short to Luckhurst, who swept forward a deep cross into the box and an unmarked Norman met it with a looping header, which dropped over the bar.

Kelly made a couple of fine saves to continue to frustrate K Sports.

Smith’s cross played in Norman in behind the Meridian defence but Kelly came out to make a vital low save, before he dived to his right to deny Norman sweeping his second shot into the corner.

“Good saves. He’s a good shot-stopper Jack. We’ve had him for a few weeks now, he’s kept us in a few games recently,” added Diggins.

Martin said: “Two very good saves, one with his foot and I was right behind it. It was going in the far corner and the other one by all accounts with everyone lifting their hands I think that was going in.

“He’s made two good saves. We didn’t trouble him throughout the game apart from putting balls wide of the goal.”

Meridian’s negative tactics appeared to have worked but turning up with only 12 available players because Christopher Johnson and Jamie Fernandes failed to turn up came back to bit them on the backside.

Diggins said: “We wanted (to create chances) but K Sports are so organised as well. So I’m sure when they go down to 10-men they’ll be hard to beat and compact.  I did think we’d have a few more chances than what we did but they’ll be organised, they’re an organised team, you can tell they’ll be up there.”

Anderson, who slotted in at right-back, tripped Smith inside the box and the referee pointed to the spot.

Smith stepped up and slotted his right-footed penalty in off the foot of the right-hand post, before the ball nestled into the netting to win it.

Meridian had one last chance but Lye drilled his shot over the bar after Elmes’ lay-off.

“Brave to pick himself up and wants to put the ball in the net again. Cain’s one of those, his ability to score goals at the moment is second to none so he’s full of confidence and that’s what he does. He took great courage from him to pick the ball up.  He’s only 21-22.

“A few people told me on the way off (the pitch) today that he might have been lucky to stay on the pitch itself, that’s what Meridian are more gutted about, but we’ve come off, not a great win. We’ve played poor and we’ve got three points so quite happy with that.

“Three points is all we can come out for today and very disappointed with our set-pieces today and our mental attitude.  I haven’t seen this mental attitude for weeks and weeks and weeks, which is 11 straight wins before today and our attitude against good sides - and I’m not saying Meridian aren’t a good side - but we’ve played sides that are a lot stronger.  That’s the disappointing thing today. We went out there thinking ‘we’re going to win this game.’

“You only win this game if you put a shirt on and deserve to win this game. I personally think maybe a draw would’ve bene a fair result with how resilient they were.”

Diggins added: “Definitely a penalty, no arguments.  He’s got the other side of the defender and he’s a clever player. He knew the defender was going to come across. It was a penalty and he slotted it well.”

Diggins and James Brown are keen to add numbers to their slender squad.

“It’s a bit of a David and Goliath game today. We are where we are.  We thought we could walk away with a point, albeit they had 10 men. It would’ve been a positive point. We can maybe push on.  We’re looking to sign a couple of players on Tuesday to put pressure on the squad and boost the squad as well. It’s frustrating as a manager when you can only make one change and that’s a centre back.”

K Sports: Joe Cullip, Martin Di Fede (Dylan Ruler 84), Gabrielle Luckhurst, Joe Lewis (Jason Perry 73), Liam Dawson, Michael Russell, Josh Brown, Ashley Cooper, Caine Smith, Nick Nwotny (Edward Morant 79), Robert Norman.

Goals: Caine Smith 40 (penalty), 90 (penalty)

Booked: Caine Smith 73, Michael Russell 75, Jason Perry 90

Sent off: Liam Dawson 51

Meridian VP: Jack Kelly, Dean Whittingham, Michael Shipp, Andrew Russell, James Brown, Paul Bradbury, Richard Whyte, Dominic Elmes, Grant Lye, Adam Dosso, Mehmet Piro (Caine Anderson 79).
Subs: Christopher Johnson, Jamie Fernandes

Goal: Grant Lye 30

Booked:  Mehmet Piro 69, Richard Whyte 73, Paul Bradbury 75, Dominic Elmes 83, Adam Dosso 90, Caine Anderson 90

Attendance: 40
Referee: Mr Shane Brown (West Kingsdown)
Assistants: Mr Michael Wilson (Sittingbourne) & Mr Paul Franks (Sittingbourne)

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